Durant says 'nothing's ever a wasted year'
The day after his Oklahoma City Thunder was knocked out of the second round of the playoffs by the Memphis Grizzlies, Kevin Durant vowed to learn from this season, not lament it.
That view is very different from the one Kobe Bryant offered up when he was 32, when he said any season that didn't result in an NBA championship was "a wasted year of my life." Bryant spoke in 2011 after the Lakers were swept from the playoffs by the Mavericks.
"Nothing's ever a wasted year for me. It's basketball. I've grown so much as a man since the beginning of the season. I've grown so much as a leader. Nothing is ever wasted," the 24-year-old Durant said.
"Of course, the ultimate goal in this league is to win a championship. But I'm never going to say I wasted a year. I'm blessed to even wake up and do something I love every day. So it's never wasted."
Don't like that answer?
"I don't give a damn," Durant said firmly. "I'm going to be who I'm going to be. I'm not Kobe Bryant. I'm not Michael Jordan. I'm not LeBron James. I'm not Magic Johnson. I'm me. I'm not going to ever compromise myself, my integrity and what I believe in for winning some basketball games and winning a championship. That's just not how I was brought up.
"I'm always going to fight for this game I love. I'm going to claw until the last buzzer sounds. And if that's after a championship then, of course, I'll be happy. I'm not satisfied just being in this league and losing. I'm going to work as hard as I can to try to get to that mountaintop. I enjoy playing the game. I enjoy being here. But I'm never going to come out to the media and say we wasted a year because we lost a championship. Like I said, I don't have to be Kobe Bryant."
Veteran point guard Derek Fisher, who has played with both Durant and Bryant, said Durant's comments have as much to do with his age, relative to Bryant's at the time, as his personality.
"If Kobe was 25, his answer may have been different," Fisher said. "But 15 years into a career where so much had been accomplished already, I could relate to that answer.
"But I can also relate to Kevin's answer today. To accomplish what was accomplished last season [when the Thunder went to the NBA Finals], then to lose a talented player like James [Harden] and gain a talented player like Kevin Martin but have such a completely different roster from a year ago and still win 60 games and still be one of the best teams in the league, that says a lot about the direction of this organization.
"So I can see why Kevin would still be optimistic about where things can go in the future."
Fisher said Durant's laid-back personality plays a role, as well.
"Toughness is not always how you show it, or try and show it off," Fisher said. "There's a toughness that doesn't have to be talked about or kind of put out there for display. That's Kevin's style. That's what he's about. I think other teams in the league see it that way also. I think everybody would like to have him on their side, instead of against them."
Or, as Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said the other day, "He's so competitive, but he doesn't feel like he has to tell the world how competitive he is."
Durant had carried the Thunder since Russell Westbrook was lost for the playoffs with a knee injury in Round 1, averaging 28.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 6.6 assists in 46 minutes a game during the physical series.
But the burden eventually became too much to bear. Durant shot just 5-for-21 from the field in Oklahoma City's 88-84 loss to Memphis in Game 5 on Wednesday night. In the fourth quarter and overtime of the last three games of the series, Durant was a combined 4-for-22 from the field for just nine points.
"I really don't think about being tired when I'm on the floor. If I think that, that's how I'll feel," Durant said. "But last night after the game, I don't usually drink Gatorade after a game, but I drank like four or five bottles of Gatorade. I think if I wouldn't have did that, I'd have passed out.
"I just tried to give it my all. I had to live with the results, which were tough. But I'm embracing it, embracing the hard time and looking forward to the future."
That future will include the return of Westbrook, who is on crutches after surgery to repair his torn meniscus.
Westbrook said he'd spoken with Bulls guard Derrick Rose recently and came away from the conversation knowing he needed to "take my time" and wait until "I was 100 percent" before coming back. With a long offseason to heal, however, that shouldn't be a problem.
Westbrook said he was too emotional after the loss Wednesday night to comment publicly, but by Thursday morning he appeared to be in a much better place.
"Injuries are a part of sports," he said. "Stuff like this happened to different players through the year, and in this year's playoffs as well. I think we had a great year. Sixty wins is great. It shows we're getting better each and every year. Hopefully, next year we can take another step forward."
The hardest part about his injury, Westbrook said, was watching helplessly as the Rockets and Grizzlies triple-teamed and relentlessly trapped Durant in his absence.
"That's the first time I've seen that, and I'm pretty sure that's the first time Kevin's seen it as well," Westbrook said. "I felt bad about that part. Me and Kevin have grown so much over the years, creating a bond through our games. Sometimes Kevin will take over the third [quarter]. Sometimes it's me; Kevin take over the fourth.
"We've created a bond. We know when each other's down. I try to get him an easy basket. He'll help me out. That was the biggest part -- that hurt myself and Kevin, as well."
The Thunder likely will be favored to win the Western Conference again next season with a healthy Westbrook and Durant. But the team does face some important offseason questions. Sixth man Martin is an unrestricted free agent. Center Kendrick Perkins is a potential amnesty candidate.
Martin said he was looking forward to the process of being an unrestricted free agent, but it was too soon to focus on it yet, with the season having ended so abruptly.
"I'm at a point in my career where I don't need to get what I can get," Martin said, when asked what his priorities were in free agency. "It's more about happiness and looking back on this experience, I've been on both sides of the fence -- being on a championship-caliber team and being on a team trying to make it into the playoffs -- so I have a vision of what I want my career to be, and the main thing is happiness and being a part of something special."
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